how to give your pet a bath

Vector graphic of a pet shampoo bottle

Scrub-a-dub, tips for dogs (and cats!) in the tub

Sometimes your beloved little stinker just plain needs a bath. Professional groomers are one option. Doing it yourself with a little care and prep is another. Just remember, human shampoo isn’t designed for pets, and can irritate their skin. There are many good pet-safe dog shampoos and cat shampoos out there, so ask your veterinary team for their recommendations.

Make an appointment

Get ready, get set, get wet
Vector graphic of a pet shampoo bottle and bathing instructions

Prep ahead of bath time

If you can, recruit a pet-friendly friend to help keep your wet, soapy furrball safe and secure during their scrub. Have everything nearby and ready to go before you start.

  • Give your BFF a good brushing before you begin to help reduce hair volume and remove any mats.
  • Select your bathing spot, like a bathtub or sink for small to medium-sized pets, or a kiddie pool for larger dogs. Ideally you want a spot where you can safely keep your pet in place.
  • Use a mesh sink trap to prevent fur from going down the drain, or keep a sponge handy to capture extra hair.
  • Pre-dilute your pet shampoo, with one part shampoo to 10-15 parts water. Pre-diluting can make it much easier to apply, lather, and rinse extra-furry pets.
  • Pre-warm your towels in the drier. This may seem super luxe, but a warm towel can make a real difference in helping to get your pet completely dry.


Did your pet get flea treatment? Wait for at least 48 hours before your pet’s next bath.

Vector graphic of a tap running water

It’s bath time!

After you’ve prepped your space and your pet, it’s time to get soapy.

  • Shut the door if you can to prevent your pet from escaping the bath area before the bath is done.
  • Use lukewarm, never hot, water to bathe your BFF.
  • Water coming directly out of the faucet or showerhead may frighten pets, so use a plastic cup to gently soak the water into your pet’s fur.
  • Follow shampoo directions, taking care to avoid getting soap or water into your pet’s eyes and ears. Some medicated shampoos require lathering for 10 minutes, so it can help to have something fun to occupy your pet while you both wait for the rinse.
  • Use a damp washcloth to wipe off that fuzzy face (still taking care to avoid getting soapy water in your pet's eyes, nose, ears, and mouth). 
Vector graphic of a comb and a hairbrush

Drying and brushing your damp pet

Just a few final steps before releasing your much cleaner dog or cat to resume their normal daily routine.

  • Dry with fluffy towels as best you can. If you’re using a hairdryer, please use one specifically made for pets, not people.
  • Use your finger and a tissue or cotton ball to dry off your pet's ears, which can be prone to yeast or bacterial infections if they're too moist.

No matter how tempting it is, never put cotton swabs in your pet’s ear. If you spot anything gross in there, ask your vet about proper ear cleaning techniques and products.

See more about pet ears

  • Bathing can loosen fur and skin flakes, so give your pet another good brushing. Don’t be surprised if your pet sheds a bit or shows more dander than usual after a bath.
  • Enjoy your clean and silky pet!

When to call the vet

Bathing your pet is a great way to get hands-on with your BFF, which can help you spot skin and coat symptoms you might otherwise miss. If you notice any lumps, bumps, changes in skin color or odor, raw or crusty skin, or other signs, definitely call your vet. 

Make an appointment
Promo Icon OWP

Optimum Wellness Plans®

Affordable packages of smart, high-quality preventive petcare to help keep your pet happy and healthy.
See OWP packages